Turnpike to review cause of huge pileup

30 people injured in Bucks County

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The head of the Pennsylvania Turnpike has ordered a review of the circumstances that led to a massive pileup that injured 30 people on the toll road on the morning of Feb. 14.

An estimated 50 to 100 vehicles, including several tractor-trailers, were involved in crashes that occurred in Bucks County, west of Philadelphia, just hours after the turnpike lifted a temporary 45 mph speed limit imposed because of a winter storm. Both sides of the turnpike were closed for several hours.

Turnpike CEO Mark Compton said an after-incident review began this week. A team is compiling information that includes an incident timeline, roadway and weather conditions, communications and response times. Officials will interview call center dispatchers, fire, medical and safety personnel, and turnpike maintenance employees. Then they will take testimony from victims and witnesses.

The findings will be made public, Mr. Compton said.

"We absolutely want to understand if there was something we could have done that may have prevented or somehow mitigated the crashes," he said. "Plus, we need to consider if there's something different we could be doing to reduce or better respond to incidences like this in the future."

Among the issues to be considered is whether the speed restrictions should have been lifted, he said. The review is expected to take several weeks.

State police Capt. Greg Bacher, commander of Troop T, which patrols the turnpike, said investigations pointed to multiple causes.

"We determined the crashes resulted from reduced visibility due to the sun's glare and tire spray from other vehicles, in addition to slick or slippery pavement conditions and excessive speed," he said. "In fact, the investigations will result in the issuance of at least 10 motorist citations for traveling too fast for conditions."

In addition to the turnpike's review, state Sen. John Rafferty, chairman of the transportation committee, will hold a hearing on the Feb. 14 incident and other weather-related crashes this winter. No date has been set.

Also on Friday, Gov. Tom Corbett directed Pennsylvania's emergency management chief to review the state's response to two recent storms.

A snow and ice storm on Feb. 4 and 5 knocked out power to 849,000 customers, mostly in the south central and southeastern parts of the state, and the outages lasted for several days. Another storm socked the state with up to 18 inches of snow on Feb. 12 and 13.

In a statement, Mr. Corbett said he has directed Glenn Cannon, who heads the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, to "examine the actions that worked best and incorporate those into the standard operating procedures for all future emergencies." He also directed Mr. Cannon to examine what needs to be improved. A report is expected within 30 days.

Mr. Corbett ordered a similar review in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy. Lessons learned from that review benefitted the response to the recent winter storms, he said.

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic.

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